Confession Time

I have a confession to make- I am a release junky. A full fledged addict and it feels good to say it out loud.  Releasing new products/functionality/sites gets me out of bed in the morning.

The build up to the release date, hitting the go button, and then watching the feedback come in. I can’t get enough of it.

The first part of my career was spent in a service based web consultancy where I was working on 5 to 10 projects at any time. We were fast paced and never went  long without releasing something for our clients. Working in this environment for the first 6 years of my career probably explains where the addiction started.

The truth is there is nothing like finishing. Whether it’s the 100 metre sprint or the marathon- that sensation of crossing the finish line is amazing. You get there, you stop, you look around, sometimes you even want to throw up, but every time you pick yourself up, walk away, and start thinking about that next race while you swim in your own endorphins.

It’s so important to understand what makes you tick, where you find the inspiration and the motivation to keep going on those grey days.

I like the finish line and I am proud of it.

We’re not a Family, we are a Pro Sports Team

Netflix’s reference guide to their business values and culture is fantastic.

One slide that resonated with me was slide 27  “We’re not a Family, we are a Pro Sports Team

Growing up I loved playing on sport teams. My favourite team was probably my middle school basketball team.

The school was made up of grade 8, 9 and 10.

Grade 8’s had their own team that almost everyone who wanted to play got to be on it. It was fun, not very competitive, and we were never any good. However, the school varsity team of grade 9s and 10s was a whole other story. They were good, really good and it was cut throat to be on it. You now had twice as many girls vying for the 15 positions and everyone wanted it.

I always knew I wanted to be on this team– it just meant so much to me and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so I trained, I trained a lot. The summer before grade 9 I played basketball as much as I could. Luckily, I had a basketball hoop at the end of my driveway where I would play my dad or brothers any time they would. I normally lost, but losing was okay as long as I was practicing.

I also went to basketball camp where I spent a week training harder then I ever had before. When I wasn’t  putting band-aids on my blisters, I was running lines, working on on my free throws, learning to do left handed layups and playing game after game.

What kept me going when every bone in my body hurt was the all consuming feeling that I wanted to make the team in September.  I knew I was at a disadvantage because the team the year before had been made up of primarily girls in grade 9, who would probably just float back into their position. This meant there were only a few open spots from the grade 10 girls who had moved onto high school.

This was cut throat, we now had the entire grade 8 team +  the returning grade 9s + anyone else who had failed to make the teams all wanting to play- every tryout was going to count.

Every day after school for 2 weeks we’d meet the coach in the gym where we would be taken through numerous skills tests, pick up games, and 2km time trial runs.

You’d go home every night exhausted with a pit of nerves in your stomach and every morning you walk up to the gym door to see if your name was still on the list.

For a 14 year old this was stress, this was passion.

I made the team and I had never been so excited and proud. Not only was it a testament to hard work and determination, but having gone through such a difficult trial process had set a tone for the team. Everyone wanted to be there and everyone wanted to be successful.

This made the season an incredible experience. We trained hard, we practiced hard, we supported each other, and we loved playing together. There was no room for indifference, apathy, or slackers.

Now back to Netlfix- absolutely, I think a company with a true sports team culture would be incredible. A team made of people with the same passion, commitment, and drive that I experienced  with a group of 14 and 15 years playing basketball.

Netflix Presentation

Culture

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Detroit’s Decline

A step away from what I usually talk about, but I just came across Time’s photo essay
entitled- Detroit’s Beautiful, Horrible Decline.

United Artists Theater, Detroit

United Artists Theater, Detroit

It’s the type of imagery that we’re used to seeing in war torn cities where buildings have been riddled with gunshots and ravaged with bombs.

But in Detroit, it’s a different kind of war- an economic one. A war that begun with the demise of industries and its infinite ripple into the economy.

Plants shut down, people lost their jobs, more business closed, people moved, house prices fell, investment dried up and the city began to die.

It is true that cities are structures, building and geography, but their heart has always been the people. It’s a combination of societies, communities, cultures and their economies that keep cities alive and moves them forward.

As economies struggle in this current climate, it’s never been more important for societies, communities and cultures to work together to fight for their home, fight for their city. If they don’t, one day we’ll look back and see what once were beautiful, flourishing cities have now become ghost towns.

Geeks are Creatives too

I was reading an article How to Manage Geeks. A friend sent it to me, probably because I work with a team of developers.

I am not sure how I feel about the word “geek”. As a kid, it was insult, but now it’s a term used widely about amongst the “geek” community to describe themselves. If used appropriately, it’s no longer derogatory. Times they sure have changed!

I don’t consider myself a geek, but I suspect to someone outside of the “IT world”, a product manager building online web applications is a pretty geeky profession! (The truth is that I love my job, so maybe I am a geek…)

Anyway I wasn’t sure what to expect reading the article, whether is was a joke or serious, but it was the real deal- a true “How To” on the dos and don’ts of managing a “geek”.

I am writing about this because one of these “How Tos” really stood out for me- #10 Remember that geeks are creative workers.

I think quite often in website or application development, it’s easily forgotten how much design is required by software engineers to give life to the specification documents and the designs that accompany them.

Whether you are creating something for the first time or extending an existing product- the engineer needs to think about the problem holistically and design a solution that meets the specifications and looks and works like the design while ensuring it’s a solid build with minimal bugs.

Through this design process they also need to feed back to the team any suggestions for revising the specifications or design based on technical constraints or suggestions for improvements.

This technical design phase is critical to the success of any project.

So I do agree- give the “geek” a creative environment to work and allow them the time and freedom to design their software as allowing for this will only result in better products, websites and applications.

What value do you bring?

I heard someone talking the other day about finding your personal value proposition.

Determining what skills you have to offer your employer, your clients/customers, your staff- every working relationship in your life.

While the world is experiencing the shaky economic climate, what can you do and what will you do to ride the wave and be successful?

If you don’t know what value you bring, how can you expect anyone to pay you for what you do?

Take a few minutes and ask yourself these questions- really think about it.

If you can’t find any value in your work, then brace yourself  because it’s only a matter of time before someone else notices!

Actually to be honest, they probably already have.

So what better time to see what you can change- find ways to work smarter, increase productivity, increase profit and stimulate your business in 2009.

Taking Inventory

Wow it’s been a long time since I posted anything on my blog. I am going to have to blame computer burn-out, which has subsequently been cured with a 4 week holiday only logging on for the occasional email. :-)

Anyway, a lot has been happening since the 5th of August as the world walks on egg shells waiting for the US government to approve the billion dollar bail out plan.

I have been particularly interested in the coverage relating the future of Web start-ups in this time of economic turmoil. Half the commentators are doom and gloom and others trying to  remain positive and offer advice on survival.

As unemployment rises, credit contracts and people need to tighten their spending, any business needs to take inventory of where they are at and evaluate the situation.

The first and most important question is- do we have the money we need to survive? Can we keep operating?

Ultimately, money should be coming from customers from a sound business model and good revenue streams. This is essential. You need this to survive and it’s required if you want someone to invest in you as you will need to demonstrate how they are going to make money out of their investment.

The second question is (are)– am I executing an awesome product and are we a great company with an awesome customer experience?

In a time when the economy is contracting there is no room for mediocrity. If I have to choose between a great product or a mediocre one, I will choose a great one. If I have to choose between a company with friendly customer care or one that doesn’t return my emails, I am going with the friendly crew. If my disposable income is shrinking I need to be selective on things I am going to pay for, so I want the best.

What does your inventory tell you:

  • Do you have money to survive?
  • Is your business model solid?
  • Are you building an amazing product?
  • Do you treat your customers well?

Aurora- Love to hate the video

Adaptive Path has launched a new web browser interface concept that they have been working on in conjunction with Mozilla labs.

A couple days ago,  I had received an email from Adaptive Path’s marketing manager inviting one and all to their offices for the launch party on 6 August. Yes, this did spark a level of interest as they promised to demo the future of the web.

Alas living on the other side of the world was going to prevent me from attending, but today I found I was able to find information online (video) about their project Aurora.

I was really excited to watch the video as I have a lot of time for Adaptive Path. I enjoy their blog and appreciate the work they’ve done. Then the video started… wow was it cheesy. I had a hard time watching it.

I am not sure who came up with the concept of the farmer or who they are targeting for the discussion, but I feel they really missed the boat for the viral PR that would have come from a really hot video.  Also, the video is the opportunity to tell their story and I felt like I was watching a mockumentary.

Okay enough about the video.

Other thoughts were. Aurora feels really early and unpolished. Yes absolutely, the UI of the browser is still in its infancy and changes to browser behaviour are inevitable.

Whether those changes are as Aurora predicts or more all encompassing like the Monitory Report where the line that separates the computer and reality are blurred– only time will tell.

You can check out the video on Vimeo.

Take your ego out of the job

I just read this article on Joel Cohen, a writer and producer from The Simpsons. The article talks about the creative culture and innovation required to keep The Simspons fresh considering they’ve made over 400 episodes now.

What stuck out for me was his comment– “Take your ego out of the job

In innovative and design lead organisations there are often so many smart creative people trying to solve problems that sometimes you’ll find your ideas and concepts being dismissed.

As everyone, we’ve all felt that sting of being shot down when we really thought we were onto something. Sitting in a brainstorming session, spiting out our brilliant idea to only find it being quickly passed over or even worse, slightly considered and then passed over with the next suggestion. Ouch!

Cohen suggests that this happens because “Not every great idea is the right great idea“.

To survive in a creative environment you have to leave your ego at home.  You can not let ego or hurt feelings come into play or you won’t make it. You probably love working with your colleagues because they are smart and talented and ironically it’s those characteristics which creates the reality where their ideas are chosen instead of yours.

However, if you are good at your job, for every idea that is dismissed I guarantee another one will be picked up. Just be prepared that your idea belongs to everyone so it’s going to be massaged and amended with team and management input. That’s just the way it goes and quite often with collaboration the outcome is far superior then had it only been worked on by you.

Recommend a friend

I may be last to the party, but I have just recently discovered Facebook’s “ You may know these people” widget at the bottom right of your personal homepage.

This list is obviously generated by comparing your friend list with those of your friends to see if you’re missing anyone who  is linked to 1 or more of your friends.

It’s like like your own personal long-tail. You’re being presented with those people who are completely on the periphery, periphery of your life- they are out of site and out of mind. The people you haven’t thought of in years are being surfaced to you in an Amazon-esque fashion. Instead of “we recommend this product because people who shop like you have also bought it”  you’re getting, “ we recommend this person to you because your friends- x,y,z- like them”

I am personally loving it as having lived on three continents in the past 10 years my memory gets fuzzy when I try to remember the names of all the people I have met and the friends who have come in and out of my life. So when I see their little faces popping up in the widget, I get pretty excited to send them a note to see how they are doing.

It also demonstrates how small the world really is when you can see how interconnected we really are. This becomes obvious when “a recommend friend”  comes up and this person is connected to a person you went to elementary school with, another who you worked with right out of university and a third who you met backpacking in Europe- how do they know all the same people?!? You really begin to wonder if someone is living a parallel life to yourself.

What will the Urban Dictionary tell us in 150 years?

A friend of mine has become slightly obsessed with (and an author within) the Urban Dictionary. I think her love of the English language brought the concept of this evolving dictionary to her consciousness, but the ability to create words and phrases based on modern life is quite powerful and in most cases a good laugh.

What I find most intriguing is not the creation of the words today, but how historians will look back at them to analyse and understand the people of this era. For example, today’s word of the day is Jingle Mail. Definition:

Jingle mail is the package containing the keys to your house that you send back to the bank when the interest rate on your adjustable-rate or IO/neg-am mortgage resets, or the property tax bill gets reassessed at double what it was two years ago, or you find out that heating and AC and repairs cost a ton of freaking money, or you lose your job because of the recession that’s coming with the housing crash, and you can’t make the payments any more.

“My neighbor put up the Escalade and the Beemer that he bought with his third HELOC for sale, and has been having garage sales every week for the last month to raise cash … I give it about 90 days till he sends in the jingle mail.”

Can you see what the Urban Dictionary will tell us? In 150, historians will look back to March 18th, 2008 and see that the word of the day was Jingle Mail. Why is this word relevant and humorus today? Hmm… let’s see the world is skating on thin ice awaiting the true impact of the subprime mortgage crisis, yesterday, one of America’s largest investment banks was sold for a 17th of its value, oil is at a record high per barrell and people are scared of a recession and a depression.

What’s the impact of all of this on culture? Let’s check out the urban dictionary and see what are people saying? How is their language evolving to cope with what’s going on?

I can almost see the thesis abstract on the sub-prime mortgages crisis, there will be a foot note reference to the urban dictionary showing how the economic waves rippled down into culture by the formation of new words.